Online Adult Education Degrees 2021

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A degree in adult education qualifies graduates to work with learners in a variety of disciplines and settings. Instructors who specialize in adult education may teach more traditional academic courses and subject matter, such as math and science. They can also teach continuing education courses related to personal development or craftsmanship, such as art, cooking, welding, and photography.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teachers specializing in adult basic education, adult secondary education, and English as a second language (ESL) earn a median annual salary of $55,350. Graduates from adult education programs may work in secondary schools or community colleges.

Adult Education Program Frequently Asked Questions


  • What degree do I need to teach adults?

    Aspiring teachers need a bachelor’s degree in teaching or a related-subject area and must fulfill requirements for state licensure. This typically includes completing student teaching hours and passing a certification exam.


  • What degree is best to become a teacher?

    Many degrees can lead to a career as an educator, but a bachelor’s program is the most traditional path.


  • What is the highest degree you can get for teaching?

    A doctor of philosophy or a doctor of education are the field’s highest degrees. Professionals who want to instruct teachers or become school administrators typically pursue these degrees.


  • What are the different kinds of degrees in education?

    Degrees in adult education are similar to degrees in other disciplines. Learners can enroll in an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral program. Most educator roles require a bachelor’s degree or higher.


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Why Get a Degree in Adult Education?

A degree in adult education allows individuals to become teachers who specialize in working with nontraditional students. Earning a degree in adult education provides a solid foundation in the education field and learning theory that translates well to more specific disciplines, such as language arts, foreign language, math, science, and art.

This degree may also appeal to professionals within a specific discipline who want to transition into a teaching role. Online programs in adult education allow students to pursue a degree in education while balancing work, family life, and other obligations. A degree in adult education allows individuals to become teachers who specialize in working with nontraditional students. Earning a degree in adult education provides a solid foundation in the education field and learning theory that translates well to more specific disciplines, such as language arts, foreign language, math, science, and art.

This degree may also appeal to professionals within a specific discipline who want to transition into a teaching role. Online programs in adult education allow students to pursue a degree in education while balancing work, family life, and other obligations.

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How Much Does an Adult Education Degree Cost?

Tuition costs vary depending on many factors, including student residency, whether the school is private or public, and program length. In-state tuition typically costs significantly less than out-of-state tuition. In addition, longer programs usually cost more because students must take more classes.

In general, online adult education programs offer more affordability and flexibility than their traditional on-campus counterparts. Many of these programs charge a standard rate for students regardless of residency.

Online programs also allow students to save on cost of living, since they do not need to live near campus. Working professionals can enroll in online adult education programs while continuing their career, helping offset tuition costs.

Adult education programs typically do not require any additional fees, but online programs may charge a technology fee.

Calculating the Cost of a College Degree

Prospective students can use the college affordability calculator to determine how much they can afford to pay in college tuition. Learners input information such as annual income, current cost of living, and projected financial aid.

How Much Do Adult Education Majors Make?

Graduates with a degree in adult education may work as adult education instructors, continuing education coordinators, ESL teachers, or community education instructors.

Teacher Salaries


According to the BLS, adult basic and secondary education teachers earn a median annual salary of $53,350 while career/technical education teachers earn $59,140. Postsecondary teachers earn an annual median salary of $80,790. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 9% between 2019 and 2029.

Certification and Licensure


Professionals typically earn higher salaries as they gain more experience. Earning certifications and licensure in specific subject areas can increase educators’ expertise in a subject or with a specific group of learners. For instance, adult educators with a certificate to teach ESL may expand their job prospects and earning potential.

Courses in Adult Education

Adult education programs provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become effective teachers to adult learners. Most adult education programs include a standard curriculum in education and provide courses specializing in adult education.

The core curriculum may include courses such as educational leadership, program planning and development, and research in adult and higher education. More specialized courses might cover topics such as professional education, student services in adult education, and internship opportunities.

See below for some common courses in adult education programs.


  • Diversity in Adult Education

    This course introduces students to theory and instructional strategies for teaching nontraditional learners from various cultural backgrounds and nationalities. Enrollees explore ways to make their curriculum more culturally competent. In addition to cultural differences, students learn to accommodate neurodiverse students and learners with disabilities.


  • Adult Development

    Enrollees study the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of adults across the lifespan. The course covers theories of learning, theories of normal and abnormal personality development, and factors that affect human development.


  • The Adult Learner

    Students explore adult learning theory and how to apply learning theory in instruction to foster motivation in nontraditional learners. This course touches on the developmental challenges of adulthood, the differences in pedagogy for children and pedagogy for adults, and the instructional methods used to apply adult learning principles.


Certifications and Licensure for Adult Education

Adult education can encompass a variety of disciplines and subject matter specializations. A degree in adult education can pair well with many licenses and certifications in specific areas. Aspiring teachers need a state teaching license or certification to teach in public schools or institutions. Educators can also earn alternative certifications and certifications in particular subject areas.

State Teaching License


Aspiring teachers must be licensed or certified in the state where they wish to teach. State licensure or certification typically requires a bachelor’s degree, the completion of an approved educator preparation program, passing certification exams, and submitting an application to the relevant state board.

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TEFL/TESOL Certificate


A TEFL or TESOL certificate allows individuals to teach ESL or English to foreign language speakers. Educators typically need these internationally recognized certificates to teach English abroad. Candidates must enroll in and complete an online course.

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American Board English Language Arts Teacher Certification


This nonprofit provides alternative teaching certifications to qualified individuals. Candidates can pursue online, self-paced programs in several subjects, including English. Students must pass the professional teaching knowledge exam and a subject area exam to earn certification.


Online Adult Education Programs 2021


  1. University of Arkansas
    Location

    Fayetteville, AR

    The adult and lifelong learning program at the University of Arkansas qualifies scholar/practitioners to deliver and enhance education for adults in variety of capacities and formats. Upon graduation, participants will be prepared to work with adults engaged in educational pursuits offered by nonprofits and community-based groups, as well as learners pursuing secondary and postsecondary education. They may also work with adults involved in executive and professional education endeavors. The graduate program follows standards that were developed by the Commission of Professors of Adult Education, and students will be instructed by faculty who have hands-on experience in the field.

  2. Morehead State University
    Location

    Morehead, KY

    Graduate students interested in careers in adult learning can complete a master's program at Morehead State University in as little as one year. The program results in an MS in adult and higher education. The program is offered to distance learners, who can also finish the online option in as little as 12 months. The program, like all those offered by Morehead, is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The flexible program is taught by seasoned instructors with field experience, and students will be guided through their academic journeys by Graduate School personal advisors who help with academic forms, course selection and university resources.

  3. Troy University
    Location

    Troy, AL

    Troy University, which began as a normal school for aspiring teachers, offers a variety of adult education programs at the graduate level, including thesis and non-thesis options. There is also a graduate certificate program, and students can choose tracks in instructional design, instructional technology, leadership studies and workforce development. Graduates will be qualified to move onto careers in universities, four year colleges, two-year colleges and technical colleges. They may hold office management positions, work in student affairs or follow careers in program development. Other career options include the military, the private sector, and state and local agencies.

  4. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    The adult education program at Indiana University-Bloomington, which can be completed online, results in a master of science in education degree. Students will learn the fundamentals of program planning, as well as the historical and theoretical context of adult education in America. The program, which is among the oldest of its kind in the nation, was established in 1946. It has been offered to distance learners in the online format since 1998. Graduates can pursue careers in both the private and public sectors as teachers, administrators, technical instructors, academic advisors, instructional designers, corporate trainers and human resource professionals.

  5. SUNY Buffalo State
    Location

    Buffalo, NY

    Graduate students will leave the adult education program at SUNY Buffalo State with a master of science degree and the skills needed to enter careers in the fields of human resources and adult education. Other graduates may choose to move on to further education at the doctoral level. The 30-credit program includes nine credits applied to a field specialization, which will be chosen with the help of an advisor. Options include linguistics, literacy, administration, creativity, multiculturalism, education computing, health and wellness, and vocational education. Those who enter the program with limited adult education experience may also participate in an internship.

  6. Kansas State University
    Location

    Manhattan, KS

    The Kansas State University Global Campus offers a master's degree in adult and continuing education online to distance learners. Participants have the option of combining the degree with one of the school's online certificate programs. Students can also choose to incorporate traditional, face-to-face courses as well. As students advance through the program, they will develop a portfolio, which is due during the student's last semester of coursework. Degree candidates cannot fulfill the required final examination without their portfolio. Prospective students are encouraged to check out a program-specific blog maintained on the university's website.

  7. University of Southern Maine
    Location

    Portland, ME

    Billing the program as "the region's only adult educator graduate degree," the University of Southern Maine offers a master of science degree to graduate students. The program, which requires a minimum of 36 credit hours to complete, is delivered 100 percent online. Students can start at any time, and will have assistance from an admissions counselor before they register. Students will leave the program prepared to work in environments as varied as K-12 schools, the nonprofit sector and corporations in the private sector. The self-paced program allows working adults maintain their current schedules.

  8. University of Houston-Victoria
    Location

    Victoria, TX

    The School of Education, Health Professions and Human Development, which is part of the University of Houston-Victoria, offers a master of education degree in adult and higher education. The program, which students can complete 100 percent online, comes with two options. The adult education track is designed mostly for working educators in fields like health education, community agencies, religious institutions, and corporate training and development. There is also a higher education track, which was developed for professionals working in settings such as community colleges in roles like staff member, advisor, administrator and student affairs advisor.

  9. Northwestern State University of Louisiana
    Location

    Natchitoches, LA

    Distance learners can pursue a master of arts degree with a concentration in adult learning completely online at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. There are three tracks: homeland security, adult and workforce development and e-learning. The program focuses heavily on technology and was developed according to the guidelines of the Commission of Professors of Adult Education. The school offers a self-assessment quiz for prospective students who are unsure if distance learning is right for them. Online learners will watch lectures, submit assignments and complete projects, and the degree is identical to those earned on campus through face-to-face instruction.

  10. East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    The Graduate School at East Carolina University offers a master of arts in education degree for students pursuing careers in adult education. The program is only offered online, and it begins in the fall, spring, and during three summer sessions. The multidisciplinary program provides students with philosophical, historical and theoretical instruction while teaching instructional strategies and processes, as well as program development. The majority of students pursue the program on a part-time basis. Distance learners will have the same access to school and student resources, advisory staff, and research and library materials as their on-campus peers.

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